Savory Zucchini Mushroom Muffins

photo-22They came to America on the S.S. Argentina, sailing out of Genoa, Italy, in 1952,  my parents and sister, five-year old Anie.  My sister said our mother spent the entire trip in their cabin below deck, fighting seasickness.  Anie spent the days running around having fun, following our father who apparently spent most of the trip in the company of an Italian man.  Once they docked, they went to Ellis Island for medical examinations,  after which my sister and my mother were placed in quarantine for a day or two.

Anie soon became Anita, Henri became Harry, and Marie became Miriam.

Harry found work as a tailor, Anita was enrolled in Kindergarten, and Miriam stayed home and took care of her family.  By the time I was born three years later, they had settled in, for the most part.  Harry was back to Hersch, Miriam was Manya and Anita was Anita.  They had all learned to speak English, my sister had shed her Parisian roots, my mother had a drawer filled with slim, decorated boxes, that when opened, revealed various shades of delicate silk stockings, and my father’s shirts were sent to the dry cleaners.  Just like everyone else, we watched Ed Sullivan.

They were participants in the melting pot.  Eventually, my father left the world of tailoring and became a stock broker, my mother wore pencil skirts and even tried smoking for a brief time.  Anita straightened her hair and dated boys who smoked pipes.  Despite all of their efforts, I knew that we weren’t “real” Americans.

This year, Thanksgiving and Chanukkah are coinciding and I couldn’t imagine a more suitable pairing.  One holiday celebrating freedom and the other, victory.   I am sure that when our small family of three reached the shores of New York, they felt that they had achieved both freedom and victory in a way that they had never dreamed possible just a few years earlier.  They navigated this new world, and somehow managed to find the perfect balance.  They were Americans on the outside, in ways they found palatable, like how they dressed, or attending Thanksgiving dinners, but we were Jews first and foremost.

This Thanksgiving, we will serve latkes instead of stuffing, and apple sauce alongside cranberry sauce.  Turkey will still be the main  but I am considering adding a pot roast or brisket.  Sufganiyot will be paired with mulled cider, and little kugels might be served as well, disguised as muffins.  Hopefully we will strike the right balance, and be richer for it.

Savory Zucchini-Mushroom Muffins

6 medium zucchini, shredded or coarsely chopped in food processor.

6 large mushrooms, chopped

3 large brown onions, finely chopped, in processor

5 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt

1 Tb finely ground black pepper  (or less depending on preference)

Canola oil

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Make sure there are no dry spots left in the mixture.  Grease your muffin tins with canola oil and place them in the oven to heat for several minutes.  Remove from oven and  spoon mixture into tins.  Bake for about an hour or until  muffins are golden brown.  Or bake in large roasting pans for a more traditional looking kugel.  This made one large round kugel and 12 muffins.  Serves 10 -12

Note:  I think you can substitute almost any vegetable and this would work. Chopped broccoli, small diced eggplant, shredded carrots, etc. 

Enjoy,

Irene  

Beet, Fennel, and Mango Salad

photo-17My sister is in town, and it isn’t surprising that the conversation often turns to our mother, hers and mine.  The discussion typically begins with Anita recalling how, “our mother used to say…” ,”used to prepare…”,  “used to pronounce…” or “used to like…”, and ends when I respond by saying, “not my mother.”   There are eight years between us and in some ways we did have different mothers.  Anita was born and spent her early years in post-war Paris, while I was a child of the 1950s, born in The Bronx.  With each of us, our mother was busy adjusting to a new country, culture, language, and cuisine.   As the younger sister I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy this verbal sparring  but I’m not sure my sister feels the same way.

Preparing for Rosh Hashana, I feel an obligation to make some of the dishes that we both remember, and agree, that our mother served every Yontif.  I will make her Chicken Soup with kreplach, garlic chicken with roast potatoes, and make sure to include carrots for a sweet year.  The gefilte fish has been eliminated from the menu, as has the honey cake.  Instead of Tzimmis, I will prepare a fresh raw salad, colorful and slightly sweet, still using some ingredients that were often found in my mother’s kitchen, but with a new twist.

I remember my mother wishing that the New Year would be at least as good as the last, and no worse.  I called my sister to confirm this, and of course, she said  that her mother never said that.  Luckily, some things never change.  Wishing you all a Zisn Yontif, on that we can all agree.

Note: This recipe was adapted from a salad prepared in my home several weeks ago by the chefs from Puzzle Israel.

Beet, Fennel and Mango Salad
1/2 head of red cabbage thinly sliced
2 large red beets, peeled and Julienned
2 firm mangoes peeled and Julienned
3 or 4 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 fennel bulb, cored, and slivered
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

1/ 4 cup lemon or lime  juice

1 Tb sesame oil

1 tsp salt

I would add a few drops of honey for some extra sweetness

Enjoy,

Irene

Winter Squash filled with Garbanzo Beans, Dried Cranberries, and Caramelized Onions

If  you are the kind of person who looks for changes that occur with each season, even subtle changes, you might notice that the leaves are not as bright as they were during the summer.  Their beauty is not in any way diminished, it is just different.  The Fall palette is everywhere.  Inside my home, autumn is reflected in the color of the tablecloths, candles, floral arrangements, and even in the foods that come from the kitchen.  The bright greens, reds, and yellows of summer vegetables are gone, replaced with oranges, purples, burgundy, and softer shades of green.  The youthfulness of summer is just a memory, overshadowed by a more mature Fall season, a season that presents us with a range of colors, a more complex season.  We leave a certain kind of fun behind, but in its’ stead, we welcome inspiration.  Who can help but sigh when looking out over the Hudson River Valley,  seeing shades of every color, mixed together by Mother Nature, our greatest artist.  We attempt to duplicate her sense of color in our fall kitchen.  We roast root vegetables that mimic the purple and orange leaves that take our breath away, we braise stews and large cuts of meat, reminiscent of the earthy tones of fall, flecked with herbs, like leaves still clinging to the trees.

The shift comes in other ways as well. We slowly move away from outdoor activities to puzzles and board games that we can play in the quiet and warmth of our homes.  Beach Boys give way to “Autumn Leaves.”   I begin to think about new dishes using this palette, celebrating the new season, and welcoming it into our garden, our home, and our landscape.  Like a friend I haven’t seen for a while, I can’t wait to spend time with her and see what we can create, together.

                                                                            Scenes from The Hudson River Valley

Winter Squash Baked with Garbanzo Beans and Dried Cranberries

One large piece of  winter squash, cut, and hollowed it.

2 Tsp cinnamon

1 Tb olive oil

Mix oil and cinnamon and rub into the entire inside surface of the squash.  Bake on parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees till flesh is easily pierced with a knife.  About 30 minutes.

Filling

4 brown onions

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup dried cranberries

1 large can garbanzo beans, drained

2 tsp honey

Pomegranate Molasses

Slice onions in wedges and place in frying pan with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.  Drain onions and place  in dry frying pan with the olive oil.  Increase flame to medium heat, add honey, and allow onions to caramelize, lowering heat after several minutes till you achieve the desired golden color.  In a large bowl combine garbanzo beans, dried cranberries, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Add 2-3 Tb pomegranate molasses and adjust seasoning to taste.  Gently spoon filling into hollowed out squash,  gently cover surface with caramelized onions, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes at 350.  Great side dish for brisket or roast chicken.   Serves  6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Vegetable Confetti

Certain rituals signaled that the holidays were approaching.  The parquet floors of our apartment were waxed, the silver Kiddush cups, candelabra, sugar bowl and prongs (used to pick up the sugar cubes) were polished , new dresses were bought, and shoes were purchased at Buster Brown.  I still remember walking up several stairs to the little platform in the middle of the store so that our feet could be x-rayed, insuring a proper fitting shoe.

On Rosh Hashana the four of us went to Shul, something we only did on the holidays.  Everyone got dressed up and when we returned home for the Yontif meal, the table was “dressed” as well.  My mother spared no expense during a holiday, it was her way of transmitting the significance of the day to her children.  As a child I loved it all, but only now do I understand that despite the hard work, my mother’s happiness stemmed from being able to take care of her family.  May your year be filled with abundance and beauty,  and the gift of having family to take care of.  Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr.

Vegetable Confetti (pretty enough for Rosh Hashana)

3 large eggplants, diced into 1” pieces

6 large peppers, two each of,  red, yellow and orange, cored and diced

1 red onion, peeled and diced

3 ears of corn, kernels removed

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 dozen cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb honey

Take two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.  Place diced eggplant on one sheet, peppers and onion on the other.  Divide remaining ingredients between the two trays of vegetables and toss to coat with seasonings and olive oil.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or till tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally.  Note: Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for the holidays.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Persian Rice with Tadig

Rice was a staple in my mother’s kitchen. Always prepared in the most basic way, it was never the centerpiece of the meal but occupied the role of ” the starchy” side dish.  My mother bought Uncle Ben’s and cooked it in salted boiling water.  Period.  There were two ways that it was served, with hot milk and sugar for a dairy meal, and in sort of a sticky mass for meat meals.  The rice didn’t elicit any response when it came to the table, it was like eating white bread, just sort of there.  My mother was a great cook so I attribute this lack of imagination to the fact that she grew up in Poland where I am sure she was raised eating potatoes (which she always prepared well and in numerous ways) but, of course, my sister disagrees.

The first time I tasted Persian rice with Tadig was when my children began attending a Jewish Day School in Los Angeles that had a large Persian population.  The special preparation of this dish produces a tender, fluffy and fragrant rice that is covered with a thick, pale yellow crust (tadig).  The crust is both chewy and crunchy, and since there is only one layer of it, everyone wants to get an even share. 

I was determined to learn how to prepare Tadig and so over the years I have tried various recipes, this being the one that I now use.  For those of us who live in Los Angles, Persian rice is not a particularly unusual or exotic dish, but for those of you who live in other parts of the country, I encourage you to try this.  It may take a little getting use to, but I promise that it’s worth the effort.  You’ll never be satisfied with a bowl of Uncle Ben’s again.

rice after soaking in water

rice formed into a pyramid

rice with lid wrapped in tea towel

 Persian Rice with Tadig

2 cups Basmati Rice

salt

4 cups water

4 Tbs corn oil

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 Tbs water

Rinse rice and place in bowl.  Submerge rice in warm water and let stand for 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Bring a wide-bottomed pot filled with 4 cups of salted water to a rapid boil.  Add the rice and cook for 8 minutes. Drain.

Wipe pot dry with a paper towel.  Place 3 Tbs of the oil in the pot, add the turmeric and stir.  Tilt pan to cover entire bottom with oil.  Pour rice into pan, making sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with rice.  Then gently pull extra rice towards the center to form a pyramid.  Sprinkle rice with remaining oil.  Cover lid with a dish towel and tie on the top.  Cover pot, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Then lower heat ( as low as possible)  and cook for at least 30- 45 more minutes.  Crust will form on bottom.  Invert and serve with crust on top.  Serves 6-8 people

Enjoy,
Irene

Plum Galette

There were days when we just didn’t want to get on the bus to Orchard Beach.  We wanted to escape the crowds, the scene, the heat of our apartment, and the people.  We would take our transistor radio, a book, a towel, and a reflector, and  just like thousands of others teens in New York City,  and just like the song, we could be found up on the roof.   How can I explain what attracted us to this large tar-covered space.  It was not scenic or pretty, had no charm, the tar was hot and you could get it on your feet if you weren’t careful.  It was convenient but it wasn’t about convenience.  It was about finding a place that felt so far away from everything happening below.  Our own little retreat in the middle of the city.  We didn’t seem to care about the lack of atmosphere, we always had fun and for some reason, nobody ever came looking for us.  But even up on the roof  you wanted something great to eat.  I don’t remember what we brought with us, if anything, but if I had it to do all over again, then I think a slice of pie would be just perfect, plum pie.

Plum Galette

Dough

1 1/2 cups flour

1 stick butter or pareve margarine, cut into 1/2 ”  cubes

3 Tbs sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3-4  tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, butter, sugar and salt till dough looks like cornmeal.  Slowly add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time,  and pulse until dough forms into a ball.  Remove dough, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for an hour or two.

Filling

15 Italian plums, pitted and cut into wedges

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs flour

Toss plums with flour in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a floured board, roll chilled dough into a circle till about 1/4 ” thick.  Transfer to parchment paper covered cookie sheet.  Pile plums in center, leaving about 1 ” border of dough all around.  Fold dough in pleats around plums and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for about 45 minutes or till golden.  Serves 8

Enjoy,

Irene

Nopal Salad

Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food.  One of the speakers was  Michael Stern, the author of  Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.”  He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare,  and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it.  Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth.  Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for.  Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas.  For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown,  and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)

In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations.  Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to.  Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.

Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal.  Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant.  Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source.  (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are!  Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut??  Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!

Grace’s Nopal Salad  (Cactus Paddle Salad)

1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced  (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)

1 whole fresh tomato, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis

1/4 tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus.   Serves 4-6.

Enjoy,

Irene